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What causes a hazard to become a disaster?

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To answer the question adequately, one needs to understand the differences between a hazard and a disaster. A hazard is defined as a condition or situation which has the potential to do harm. In this regard, then, there is an element of risk involved. This means that a hazard can be contained if the risk elements are properly managed and maintained. To do this, the nature of the risk needs assessment, and appropriate steps must be taken to minimize its potential effect or prevent it from doing any damage. The added implication is, therefore, that a hazard does not, on its own, mean that damage has been done but that there is the chance that it might.

Furthermore, a hazard can also be an occurrence in which there is danger without there being loss or damage in human, economic or environmental terms. A tsunami that hits an uninhabited island, for example, will fit this definition. 

A disaster, conversely, is described as a sudden event which causes major and critical damage that leads to extensive losses in human, economic, and environmental terms. A disaster leads to the complete disruption of a community to such an extent that it cannot bear the repercussions on its own. A disaster, therefore, can result in the loss of many lives or completely destroy a habitat to such an extent that it is either permanently irrecoverable or would take an extended period and huge resources to repair. The Chernobyl disaster, for example, resulted in the deaths of many as a result of radiation poisoning and practically destroyed an entire habitat.  

In both hazards and disasters, the risk and damage may either be natural or the result of human activity or intervention.

A hazard, then, only presents the possibility of damage and only becomes a disaster once the threat becomes a reality.  The tsunami in our example would only be deemed a disaster if it occurs on a populated beach or island and destroys it. Its impact would result in major losses of human and animal life, damage to the environment, and have a huge economic impact.

Current concerns about global warming, for instance, deem the phenomenon a hazard that can lead to disaster if humanity does not take the necessary steps to reverse it or, at the very least, limit its impact. Many believe that we can prevent this hazard from becoming a disaster if we learn to share a harmonious existence with nature and take precautionary steps.  

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A natural hazard becomes a natural disaster when it happens in a place and time that causes it to harm human beings and their property. 

A natural hazard can be defined as natural phenomena that have the potential to do significant damage to people and their property.  These are things that could hurt people, but have not actually done so.  For example, Mt. Rainier in Washington State is a natural hazard because it could erupt and cause massive damage.  Because it has not done so, it has not been a natural disaster in historical times.

A hazard becomes a disaster when it actually occurs and when it occurs in such a way that people are harmed.  For example, a hurricane is a natural hazard while it is at sea.  When the hurricane reaches land and destroys buildings and kills people, it is a disaster.

Thus a hazard becomes a disaster when it comes into contact with the human world, killing people and causing damage to property.

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